Persons living with disabilities

The World Health Organisation estimates that one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, live with some form of disability. One fifth of these, or between 110 million and 190 million people, experience significant disabilities.

Disabled children and adults, especially those with little or no functional speech, are at an increased risk of sexual violence. Perpetrators consider them the ‘best’ victims as they are silent victims.

Children with disabilities are almost four times more likely to experience violence than non-disabled children. Adults with some form of disability are 1,5 times more likely to be victims of violence than those without a disability.

Persons with disabilities are, on average, more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than persons without disabilities. These include lower levels of education, poorer health outcomes, lower levels of employment and higher poverty rates.

Defining people with disabilities

The Code of Good Practice on the employment of people with disabilities defines people with disabilities as those who:

  • have a physical, psychosocial, intellectual, neurological and/or sensory impairment

  • which is long-term or recurring, and

  • substantially limits their prospects of entry into or advancement in employment.

What is an impairment?

An impairment may be physical or mental.

'Physical' impairment means a partial or total loss of a bodily function or part of the body. It includes sensory impairments such as being deaf, hearing-impaired or visually impaired, and any combination of physical or mental impairments.
'Mental' impairment means a clinically recognised condition or illness that affects a person's thought processes, judgment or emotions.

What is meant by ‘long-term’?

‘Long-term’ means the impairment has lasted or is likely to persist for at least twelve months. A short-term or temporary illness or injury is not an impairment that gives rise to a disability.

A recurring impairment is one that is likely to happen again and to be substantially limiting.

Progressive conditions are those that are likely to develop, change or recur. People living with progressive conditions or illnesses are considered to be people with disabilities once the impairment starts to be substantially limiting. Progressive or recurring conditions that have no overt symptoms or do not substantially limit a person are not considered disabilities.

What is substantially limiting?

An impairment is substantially limiting if, in the absence of reasonable accommodation by the employer, a person would be either totally unable or significantly limited in doing a job.

Some impairments are so easily controlled, corrected or lessened that they have no limiting effects. For example, a person who wears spectacles or contact lenses does not have a disability unless the person's vision is substantially impaired even with these aids.

An assessment of whether an impairment is substantially limiting must consider if medical treatment or other devices would control or correct the impairment to prevent or control its adverse effects.

What is reasonable accommodation?

Accommodation is an adaptation or adjustment that is made to enable the person with a disability to perform the essential duties of their job. The period of accommodation may be temporary or permanent depending on the circumstances.

Employers should reasonably accommodate the needs of people with disabilities to reduce the impact of the impairment on the person’s capacity to fulfil the essential functions of the job.

The University of Pretoria has a policy, guidelines and a request form for reasonable accommodation. These are available from the Department of Human Resources.

What types of barriers do people with disabilities experience?

Widespread ignorance, fear and stereotypes cause people with disabilities to be unfairly discriminated against in society and in employment. As a result, people with disabilities experience high unemployment levels and those who are employed often remain in low status jobs and receive lower than average remuneration.

‘Disablism’ describes the negative attitudes, behaviours, practices and environmental factors that discriminate (intentionally or unintentionally) against people with disabilities, creating barriers to their equal participation in mainstream society.

Persons with disabilities experience three main types of interrelated barriers, namely:

  • social (including high cost, lack of disability awareness, and communication difficulties),
  • psychological (such as fear for personal safety) and
  • structural (including infrastructure, operations and information).
Published by Buyi Nkonyane

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